“Blowback” is the CIA’s term for “nasty things that happen because of something we did, which we did not plan for.” I guess that makes it sound a bit like it’s not our fault; it’s just something that happened, gosh, it’s time to move on already isn’t it?

COVID vaccination rates in Afghanistan and Pakistan are low. People are dying right now, and more will die, because of unwillingness to get vaccinated. It’s probably not unreasonable for the people of Afghanistan to be reluctant to trust the US, but it’s not as simple as just that we’ve been negotiating in bad faith about the exit of our military, i.e.: “We’re leaving Afghanistan but our drones will keep overflying you and we’ll kill a few of you every so often to remind you who’s boss. What? That’s how we define ‘peace’.” Maybe it’s their fault for believing Donald Trump, in which case they can take a number and get in line.

But, in case you were forgetting or had forgotten, there’s another reason for them not to trust the COVID vaccine: the CIA. The creeps in the US intelligence community came out and basically bragged about some of the clever stuff they did to try to locate Osama Bin Laden. As an aside: it’s odd they bragged about that, because those programs all failed badly and what worked was someone took a reward for diming OBL out. None of the fancy intelligence stuff, or surveillance, or torture did a damn thing. Amid all the puffing and strutting and back-slapping I feel like I was the only guy going around, “why hasn’t someone been fired for the remarkable unsuccess of the ‘catch OBL” program?” One sobering possibility is that it actually was their finest hour, which would mean the bar is set mighty low.

Scientific American [sa] has some strongish words:

In its zeal to identify bin Laden or his family, the CIA used a sham hepatitis B vaccination project to collect DNA in the neighborhood where he was hiding. The effort apparently failed, but the violation of trust threatens to set back global public health efforts by decades.

Yeah, that was … clever. Try to identify any of OBL’s family who got a Hepatitis B vaccine, using their DNA. Brilliant. Except that you’ve got to do a lot of DNA analysis for that to work, and you’ve got to somehow successfully collect and map the identities of the people who used which needle. Nobody seems to be asking how the CIA was able to get inside the vaccination program to begin with – there were some violations of medical ethics going on, there. The CIA gets its fair share of blame, but others gave top-cover for the operation. Who? And why have they suffered no consequences?

The deadly consequences have already begun. Villagers along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border chased off legitimate vaccine workers, accusing them of being spies. Taliban commanders banned polio vaccinations in parts of Pakistan, specifically citing the bin Laden ruse as justification. Then, last December, nine vaccine workers were murdered in Pakistan, eventually prompting the United Nations to withdraw its vaccination teams. Two months later gunmen killed 10 polio workers in Nigeria – a sign that the violence against vaccinators may be spreading.

The vaccination program to kill polio myelitis was nearly at the point of success. Now, there are large regions (that correspond to places where the CIA is not popular) where they are having trouble getting people to take the vaccine. And, the same for the COVID vaccine. Perhaps we should shrug this off, because COVID-19 is going to become endemic in the human population, like influenza, because of government incompetence in other departments. The CIA’s contribution is probably pretty minor compared to Donald Trump’s. But we should still despise them for engaging in some dangerous foreign policy on their own. Or, perhaps it was approved at a high level in the Obama administration -that’s all classified, still.

The distrust sowed by the sham campaign in Pakistan could conceivably postpone polio eradication for 20 years, leading to 100,000 more cases that might otherwise not have occurred, says Leslie F. Roberts of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Forevermore, people would say this disease, this crippled child is because the U.S. was so crazy to get Osama bin Laden,” he argues.

That statement by Scientific American was written in 2013, well before the start of the pandemic. But, thanks to the CIA, the blowback continues. Spinoza was right: you cannot have secret diplomacy and democracy, because a government that comes from the people cannot hide its actions and decisions from itself. The CIA continues to do its thing, and classifies its mistakes while promoting its successes. They are the largest exporters of terror in the world; a massively-funded rogue agency that carries out its own foreign policy. That foreign policy is often bloody and ineffective, e.g.: the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam war – and it’s allowed to sweep its mistakes under the infinite carpet of US “national interest.” Meanwhile, we liberals can wring our hands over the poor benighted anti-vaxxers, who have been given years of ammunition for their conspiracy theories, thanks to a real conspiracy.

By the way, the CIA has said it will no longer use the Hepatitis vaccination program as a cover for operations. And you know you can trust them when they say that. [npr]


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    the CIA used a sham hepatitis B vaccination project …

    Could you clarify please – did they at least administer real vaccine?

  2. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#1:
    Could you clarify please – did they at least administer real vaccine?

    It appears so, yes. I don’t know details but it sounds like they gave the shot then kept the needle for DNA analysis.

    Given this was a CIA op, it has a refreshing lack of high explosive. We should all be grateful for that, I suppose.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Hang on:

    a sham hepatitis B vaccination project

    If they administered an effective vaccine, in what sense was it a “sham”, other than there was an ulterior motive beyond simply the distribution of humanitarian aid? I mean, not only was nobody hurt but hundred (thousands?) were actively made safer. Wouldn’t it be lovely if all CIA operations (successful or unsuccessful) were like that? Isn’t that the kind of covert intelligence op any rational person should be able to get right behind and applaud? Given that spooks are an inevitable side-effect of the existence of nations, isn’t the idea that they go round doing good as a front for a manhunt about as brilliant as we can possibly expect them to be?

    (All of the foregoing assumes the vaccination project was run basically competently in itself. Which is a big assumption, I’ll grant, but not impossible.)

  4. xohjoh2n says

    Except that you’ve got to do a lot of DNA analysis for that to work, and you’ve got to somehow successfully collect and map the identities of the people who used which needle.

    I suspect they could be pretty rough about it – it would be enough to know “is it somewhere near this village or that village”. Dump all the needles in a bucket then if you get a hit you use drones to map the comings and goings of everyone in the area, narrow it down to suitable looking accommodations… all it costs is a bit of time and money. And it would be pretty invisible too unless you go and brag about it afterwards. (Or have a mole.)

    By the way, the CIA has said it will no longer use the Hepatitis vaccination program as a cover for operations. And you know you can trust them when they say that.

    I’m sure you can. After all there are plenty of other vaccines around…

  5. xohjoh2n says

    @3 aside from capturing and analysing a whole population’s DNS without consent and using it for purposes which they never would have agreed to being a gross violation of medical ethics…

    The whole point of the exercise was to be able to go in and kill a whole bunch of people, deliberately, so that has to figure large on the balance sheet. And this from an organisation, and part of a grouping of other organisations, whose specific mandate is to go around killing a few hundreds of thousands of other people in the area, there is absolutely no way “doing good” can be attached to what they do.

    (And if they hadn’t been involved, the regular legit vaccine programme would likely have got to the same people anyway. Without the whole extra crimes against humanity bit attached.)

  6. vucodlak says

    @ sonofrojblake, #3

    I mean, not only was nobody hurt

    Taking someone’s DNA without their consent is a harm. Sticking a needle into someone’s body under false pretenses is a harm. Using medical care as a pretense to treat someone like a terrorist is a harm.

    Who knows how many people will avoid vaccination efforts because of this bullshit. I know that if I thought the US government was likely to use the Covid-19 vaccination drive as a pretext for gathering DNA samples on everybody, I sure as hell wouldn’t get the shots. Millions of people are likely to avoid vaccinations because of shit like this, leaving them vulnerable to horrific diseases. Disease isn’t as viscerally scary as the prospect of people breaking into your house at night, kidnapping you and your family, and dragging them off to secret torture prisons. Or hellfire missiles raining on your neighborhood.

    Talk about harm.

    but hundred (thousands?) were actively made safer

    If the CIA has collected your DNA, you are not safe, and you will never be safe again.

    If they’ve gathered your DNA, that means you’re a potential target. Very bad things tend to happen to people the CIA targets. If they’re gathering the DNA of everyone in your area, then that means that someone in the area is likely their target. If you want to know why that’s dangerous to you, then ask the people of Cambodia what happens when the CIA takes an interest in people in your general area.

  7. Dunc says

    @3: It was a sham vaccination program. To be effective, the vaccine in question requires a series of three doses, but they never bothered to administer the two follow-ups.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    @Dunc, 8: fair enough. That certainly qualifies it as a sham, even absent anything else.

  9. says

    The CIA never seems to learn: the end does not always justify the means.

    I don’t think they ever cared much to justify their actions. The object of power is power.

  10. xohjoh2n says


    Politics is about surviving until the next election.
    Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century.
    Defense is about surviving until the next budget review.

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